How to Handle Grief After an Abortion: Step-by-Step

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One in four women or people with a uterus has had an abortion in their lifetime. 

It is an incredibly common procedure, yet it can be a huge event in someone’s life. After an abortion, people may need time and space to heal emotionally and physically.

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Like with any intense life event—especially one that involves loss—some people can experience grief after abortion. Oftentimes people may not have the language to explain why they’re feeling this way, or feel guilt or confusion around what emotions are coming up. 

Understanding how grief can manifest after an abortion can help people process their emotions, or help support loved ones who are going through it. 

Is It Normal to Grieve (or Not to Grieve) After an Abortion?

No matter the cause, everyone grieves differently. That’s part of being human.

It is also worth noting that not all abortions are because of an unplanned pregnancy. People have abortions for all different reasons—and in the same vein, everyone will process their feelings in different ways.

Depending on their views or personal preferences, people may or may not choose to use terms like “pregnancy loss” or abortion. People become pregnant and get abortions under so many different circumstances. If grief comes up, it may reflect the circumstances behind a  pregnancy—but not necessarily.

Perhaps they could be grieving the possibility of what could have been, grieving the intensity of the experience, or grief coming from a place of guilt. And sometimes it can be the combination of all those things and more. 

Grief after an abortion is entirely normal. At the same time, it’s OK to not grieve. There is no one right way to process having an abortion. 

If you’re not grieving after an abortion, it doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you, or that you’ve done anything wrong. It’s simply your reaction, and it’s valid and normal. 

It’s also important to mention that if the sexual or romantic partner of the pregnant person is a part of the abortion process, their feelings are also valid. It can be difficult to unpack, but it is completely normal for someone to grieve or not grieve after their partner has had an abortion. 

ยป MORE: What do you do after someone dies? Find out here.

 

Tips for Handling Grief After Experiencing Abortion

Whether or not you want to call it grief, some form of feelings can come up after an abortion. You can feel anything from anxiety, to shame, to guilt, to fear, to relief, or none, or all of these. It is important to remember that this whirlwind of emotions is OK to experience.

Knowing what resources and tools you have available immediately after and in the coming months will help you process your feelings after an abortion. 

1. Plan ahead

People tend to know ahead of time when they are going to have an abortion. This allows you to plan ahead so that you have what you need to support your physical and emotional healing.

You might not know what you’ll need until you’re in the moment.  If you’re able to collect them beforehand, equip yourself with things that make you feel nourished and comforted. This could mean putting together a music playlist, getting your favorite snacks, or getting every fuzzy and comforting blanket you own to veg out on the couch in comfort. 

Planning also means knowing and calling upon your support system. This means asking a close loved one to be there for you emotionally and/or in-person before, during, and after your abortion without judgment. It could be your partner, a family member, or a close friend. 

Whether or not you have someone in your life who can support you during this time, there are people available. For example, you can reach out to a full-spectrum doula, or an abortion doula. These are people who offer non-medical support for people during any pregnancy outcome—including abortion. 

They can sit with you during the procedure, or help at home if you opt for a medication abortion. By tending to not just your emotional, but physical needs, they help to create a sense of comfort and security that allows you to feel supported during your abortion. 

Having a doula around during or after your abortion can help you to normalize the experience so that you can safely process whatever feeling or type of grief may arise. Oftentimes these services are available on a sliding scale, or for free. If there are none in your area, many doulas offer virtual support as well.

2. Understand your body

In addition to the grief you may feel from your abortion, you may also have a hormonal adjustment period. It can take time for your hormones to return to their non-pregnant state. 

This adjustment can make you feel like your emotions are all over the place, and it can be difficult to tell where they’re coming from. There’s no way to single out what’s grief and what’s physiological because they may be so intertwined.

Be easy on yourself. You may need extra rest, food, time, and space for you and your body to feel normal again. 

If your emotions have not returned to their pre-pregnancy levels and you’re just not feeling like yourself physically, consider seeking care from your primary care physician, OB/GYN, or hormone specialist. 

3. Know the stages of grief

Just like after a death or loss, people who have an abortion may go through the five stages of grief, known as shock and denial, anger, bargaining and guilt, depression, and acceptance. Although these stages are numbered, people don’t always experience them in a linear order. 

Knowing what the stages are, and where you’re at in your journey, can help you normalize any feelings of grief that come up after having an abortion.

4. Honor the experience

This step is not for everyone, but for some people creating meaning around their abortion helps them to go through the grieving process. 

If it feels right for you, you can choose to have a sort of ceremony or ritual that feels meaningful. It can be as simple as a short moment of silence for you and your experience, or something more focused and elaborate that borrows from your faith or spiritual practice. Honoring the experience can also just mean honoring yourself for choosing to do what was best for you.

5. Know that your experience is valid

It can be hard to remember, but know that no matter what your abortion journey looks and feels like, it is valid. There is no timeline for grief, and you may experience it for a longer or shorter period than you expect. 

Abortions can cause all sorts of mixed feelings and emotions, not only because of a personal experience but the societal and cultural influences on abortion. Cultural norms may also impact what kind of support a person can have access to, and limit who they can turn to for support. Despite whatever views your dominant culture carries around abortion, what’s most important is how you feel about it.

6. Seek support

In addition to doulas, other mental health professionals can help you through grief after an abortion.

If you are dealing with more acute feelings of grief as a result of your abortion, seeking support from a trained grief counselor or therapist can help you with lingering grief after an abortion. These are professionals who know how to talk about death or loss and can offer practical tools to help you heal. 

In some cases, having an abortion can trigger long-term mental health effects like PTSD or depression. In all cases, no matter how long it’s been since your abortion, it can be very helpful to seek professional support. There are providers who are well equipped to support you.

Although many clinics and providers work to make their services affordable for people with lower incomes, not everyone can access these services. You can find support groups and abortion advocacy pages on social media where other people are willing to have the tough conversations with you. 

If it helps, you may also want to seek the support of someone else in your community or circle of loved ones who has also experienced an abortion. It may be helpful to hear about someone else’s experience and share yours as well.

Tips for Helping a Grieving Loved One Who Experienced an Abortion

Abortions may be common but are not often mentioned. If you are unsure how to help a grieving friend, especially one who has had an abortion, here are some suggestions to keep in mind.

1. No judgment

Reserve your judgment and make sure to actively listen to your loved one. Some people may already be hard on themselves or judging themselves after having an abortion. The last thing they need is to be judged or given unsolicited advice from people supporting them. If you’re talking to them, try to listen quietly and respond with empathy.

Above all, consider dropping your judgment at the door, and show up for them as authentically as possible.

2. Holding space

The term “holding space” refers to a support person’s ability to contain a sense of comfort, security, and groundedness while someone is going through an intense moment or event. 

Sometimes this means literally holding a loved one, or giving them the freedom to cry and release whatever they need to. Let them know with your words and actions that they are safe to grieve in whatever way feels natural for them. 

You can ask yourself for example, “How does this person like to be comforted?” Are they someone who’s uplifted through joking around or funny movies? Do they need physical touch like a massage or cuddling? Maybe the way to their heart is through their stomach. Whatever helps them feel comforted, loved, and supported—consider bringing that to them in spades.

3. Know your limits

Unless you are a trained grief counselor, you may not be equipped to handle all the ways your loved one is grieving. Know and acknowledge where your limits are, and when it’s time to refer them to outside help.

Sometimes you may not be able to hold all that intensity, or you may be worried that their grief has become unmanageable for them. If that is the case, consider trying to help them find a grief counselor or a support group for those who have had abortions

How to Handle Grief After an Abortion

Abortions are common procedures, despite the taboo nature of talking about them. For those who have one, it is worth acknowledging that there’s no one right way to process the experience. Some people may grieve for a long time and others may not.

Regardless of your emotional response, your feelings are normal. The important thing is to recognize what you need personally to grieve, heal, and process. 


Sources:

  1. Jones, Rachel K., Jenna Jerman. “Population Group Abortion Rates and Lifetime Incidence of Abortion: United States, 2008–2014.” American Journal of Public Health, Guttmacher Institute, October 2017, www.guttmacher.org/article/2017/10/population-group-abortion-rates-and-lifetime-incidence-abortion-united-states-2008
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